Industrial Revolution: Result of an Agricultural Revolution?
The Industrial Revolution which began in Great Britain in the eighteenth century, and still continues in certain parts of the world, is considered by some historians to be the most significant transformation in the economic environment of human civilization after the Neolithic Revolution. There are a number of reasons that triggered and sustained the transformation of an agriculture-based economy to an industrial-based economy, but perhaps the most significant was the occurrence of an 'Agriculture Revolution' in Britain in the century following 1750. In this essay, I shall discuss why this was so, besides describing the following:
The causes and outcome of the Agricultural Revolution
Features of the Industrial Revolution
The Social Consequences of the Industrial Revolution
Karl Marx and Emile Durkhiem's theories about the Industrial Revolution
How an Agricultural Revolution in Britain triggered the Industrial Revolution?
Most historians are in agreement that the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain following mid 1700s could not have been sustained if enough food was not available to feed the country's rapidly growing population during the period. On all previous occasions of rapid population growth in the country's history, i.e., in the Roman period, around 1300, and in 1650, lack of sufficient food for a population larger than 5~6 million, had proved a stumbling block for further population growth. However, the mid-eighteenth century saw a number of developments in agriculture that enabled sufficient growth in agricultural output to support a much larger population. These developments and the resultant growth in the output of food crops can be considered as nothing short of an "Agricultural Revolution." (Overton, 2002)
Causes and Outcomes of the Agricultural Revolution
One reason for the rapid growth of agricultural output grew was the adoption of new farming systems involving the rotation of crops. It is now commonly known that if a crop is not rotated, then the nutrient level in the field goes down and crop yield drops. But until the mid 1700s the benefits of crop rotation were not commonly known. Lord Charles Townshend is famous for having introduced the first crop rotation system in Britain called the "four field system." After his retirement from politics in 1730, Townshend experimented with the "four field system" on his estate in Norfolk. He adopted the 4-year crop rotation system practiced in Holland and used turnips and clover as two of the crops in the rotation cycle. ("The Four Field System," 2004) The system provided the benefit of "crop rotation" for the fields, the turnips were used to feed the livestock during winters and clover provided nitrogen to the fields as well as grazing for the animals.
Another important innovation in agriculture was the invention of a "Seed Drill" by Jethro Tull (1674-1741). Until the invention, farmers planted the seeds by throwing them all over the ploughed field from a bag. Much of the seed was wasted because of uneven distribution. Jethro Tull's Seed Drill consisted of a wheeled vehicle with a box filled with grain which could be pulled behind a horse. It was fitted with a wheel-driven ratchet that sprayed the seed out evenly as the Seed Drill was pulled across the field. ("The Seed Drill," 2004) The Seed Drill planted seeds at regular intervals, at the right depth and covered them with earth. As the seeds were now planted in straight lines, a mechanical horse-drawn hoe could now be used to remove weeds from between the crop plants. (Ibid.)
Another factor which contributed to the increased crop yields at the time was the system of "land enclosures" that gradually replaced the traditional division of fields into "strips." This enclosed system of field became possible due to larger land holdings. It was easier to practice the system of "crop rotation" in the larger enclosed farmlands.
Crop intensity was also increased by land reclamation, achieved through clearing of forests and the draining of the fenlands of Eastern England, starting from the 17th century onwards.
The combined outcome of all these factors was nothing short of an "Agricultural Revolution." This "revolution" is amply is reflected in the figures of crop yields. For example England exported 11.5 million quarters of wheat in 1705. By 1765, wheat export had risen to 95 million quarters. This is despite the fact that Britain's population had grown substantially during the period. Additionally, the livestock, due to the introduction of selective breeding and the availability of turnips, increased in quantity and quality.
Features of the Industrial Revolution
The main features of the Industrial Revolution were technological, socioeconomic, as well as cultural. During the period, an astonishing number of technological innovations were made. These included the increased use of new basic raw material such as iron and steel; increasing use of new energy sources such as coal, electricity, and petroleum; the invention of new machines, such as the power loom, the steam engine and the internal-combustion engine and most all -- a new system of organized work known as the factory system, which emphasized increased division of labor and specialization of function, as opposed to the previous system of artisanship and home-based workshops. The Industrial Revolution also saw tremendous development in the field of transportation and communication, with the introduction and increased use of the steam locomotive, automobile, airplane, telegraph, and radio. Another distinguishing feature of the Industrial revolution was the systematic application of scientific principles to all aspects of the industry. All of these technological innovations resulted in a tremendous increase in the exploitation of natural resources, and mass production of goods. (Ashton, 1997, pp.4-6)
Social Consequences of the Industrial Revolution
It is obvious that such rapid changes in the technological field would also have their social consequences. One of the most important of these social consequences was the shifting of the working population from the rural to the urban areas which became the centers of the manufacturing industries. Several British cities such as Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, and Manchester exemplified the rapid growth of manufacturing cities in the 18th and 19th centuries. As an example, in the early 1770s Manchester had a population of only 25,000 inhabitants but by 1850, having become a center of cotton manufacturing its population had grown to more than 350,000. (Ibid. p. 49). The overall shift of the population was also significant -- in pre-industrial England more than three-quarters of the population lived in cities; by mid nineteenth century over half of the population lived in cities.
Other social consequences of the Industrial Revolution included loss of the traditional family structure as many single male members moved to cities in search of jobs in the factories. Many craftsmen and women lost their jobs as machines took their places. Dirty, over-crowded, and polluted slums grew up in the cities where factory workers lived in appalling conditions. Most of the factories offered no better working conditions, where the monotony of the specialized and repetitive work took their toll on the mental and physical health of workers. Unscrupulous factory owners took advantage of people's misery by employing women and children at a fraction of reasonable wages; made them work for long hours and maltreated them. These conditions gave rise to the workers' movements which fought for improving the working conditions.
Theories of Karl Marx and Emile Durkeim
Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) are two of the leading philosophers / social scientists of the nineteenth century who have formulated influential theories about the consequences of the Industrial revolution.
Marx's theory about Capitalism seems to be largely influenced by the socio-economic outcomes of the Industrial revolution and the growing influence of Capitalism during his lifetime. He was appalled by the naked exploitation of the workers by the owners of the factories in European cities. He believed that the "value" of a product is the result of the labor put in by the workers and the capitalists always exploited the workers by paying him less than the value, thereby accumulating the surplus value for himself. Such exploitation, Marx stated would eventually result in a "class struggle" which would result in a violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class) by the proletariat (the working class) resulting in a "Socialist" phase of the Revolution in which all capitalist private property would be confiscated by a government led by Communists. ("The Communist Manifesto," 1894) This would be followed by a utopian Communist phase of the revolution in which all classes would disappear and there would be no need for a government. Such a Marxist Revolution never occurred in any industrial country and factory workers were able to get better wages and working conditions for themselves.
The French sociologist Durkheim was also greatly concerned by the social consequences of the Industrial Revolution and much of his philosophical work is an effort to come to terms with its effects. He seems to be particularly concerned about the fragility of the modern society and attempts to find how it can be held together. He detected a sense of "anomie" in the post-industrial society -- a sense…